Thesis

Allensworth: Preserving the Cemetery of “The Town That Refused to Die”

Allensworth, established in 1908 in the San Joaquin Valley, is the only town in California to have been founded, financed, and governed by African Americans. Its founding represents African American efforts to achieve greater opportunity and to prove equality during the repressive Jim Crow era following Reconstruction.
 
 A portion of the historical town site was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1972 and has been protected since 1976 as Colonel Allensworth State Historic Park. The Allensworth Cemetery, on the other hand, has been poorly preserved. The majority of the historic period grave markers are gone and plowing has disturbed the area.
 The original Allensworth pioneers and their descendants no longer live there, but many of their lineal descendants continue to visit the town site. Additionally, the Friends of Allensworth organization and other members of the African American community who live in the area also belong to the Allensworth descendant community. These ‘figurative descendants’ have much in common with the historical residents of Allensworth in terms of experiences, history, and values, and they should be viewed as having a substantial stake in the Allensworth Cemetery. With the Allensworth descendant community as the “ethical client” the author collected oral history, helped redefine the cemetery boundaries, and determined the components of this resource. The author researched the legal status of the Allensworth Cemetery, and assessed the Allensworth Cemetery’s eligibility for listing in the National Register of Historic Places, the California Register of Historic Resources and as a California Historical Landmark.
 
 This project explored the concept of archaeology as a form of civic engagement, and collaborated with the descendant community in a way which furthered social justice goals and which is relevant to the present.

Allensworth, established in 1908 in the San Joaquin Valley, is the only town in California to have been founded, financed, and governed by African Americans. Its founding represents African American efforts to achieve greater opportunity and to prove equality during the repressive Jim Crow era following Reconstruction. A portion of the historical town site was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1972 and has been protected since 1976 as Colonel Allensworth State Historic Park. The Allensworth Cemetery, on the other hand, has been poorly preserved. The majority of the historic period grave markers are gone and plowing has disturbed the area. The original Allensworth pioneers and their descendants no longer live there, but many of their lineal descendants continue to visit the town site. Additionally, the Friends of Allensworth organization and other members of the African American community who live in the area also belong to the Allensworth descendant community. These ‘figurative descendants’ have much in common with the historical residents of Allensworth in terms of experiences, history, and values, and they should be viewed as having a substantial stake in the Allensworth Cemetery. With the Allensworth descendant community as the “ethical client” the author collected oral history, helped redefine the cemetery boundaries, and determined the components of this resource. The author researched the legal status of the Allensworth Cemetery, and assessed the Allensworth Cemetery’s eligibility for listing in the National Register of Historic Places, the California Register of Historic Resources and as a California Historical Landmark. This project explored the concept of archaeology as a form of civic engagement, and collaborated with the descendant community in a way which furthered social justice goals and which is relevant to the present.

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